Prospect of Trump nomination poses dilemma for Jewish Republicans

by | Mar 11, 2016 | Other News

WASHINGTON (JTA)—Donald Trump’s surging candidacy has sent shivers through the ranks of the Republican elite and created deep anxiety among Jewish Republicans, some of whom are so unnerved they are prepared to vote for Hillary Clinton if Trump wins the nomination. Yet others say that despite Trump’s promise to be “neutral” on Israel and his support from white supremacists, conservative principles demand deference to the eventual nominee.

“As boorish as he is, as occasionally foolish as he is, and how vituperative he can be, I would vote for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton any day,” says Ari Fleischer, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush and a board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

Fleischer says he is speaking only for himself, not the RJC, which declined JTA’s request for comment.

For other Jewish conservatives, Trump is too unpalatable to support, and for obvious reasons. Trump has refused to side unequivocally with Israel, declining at a recent campaign event to pin blame for the Middle East conflict on either Israel or the Palestinians, saying instead that he wished to remain “neutral.”

His conservative credentials are shaky, having previously favored abortion rights and argued for the imposition of tariffs, which is anathema to the business community. And Trump’s rhetoric has won support for the billionaire real-estate magnate from quarters not known for their deference to Jewish sensitivities, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and National of Islam chief Louis Farrakhan.

In an editorial, William Kristol, the neoconservative scion who runs The Weekly Standard, said the party must be saved from “a charlatan and a demagogue.” The Emergency Committee for Israel, which Kristol founded, also released an ad featuring clips of Trump speaking favorably of Syrian President Bashar Assad, former Libyan strongman Moammar Ghadafi and Saddam Hussein.

“For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton,” Robert Kagan, a veteran of the Reagan State Department and now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, wrote in a widely shared Washington Post Op-Ed. “The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.”

Jonathan Tobin, the online editor at Commentary, a conservative magazine that does not take positions on candidates, says he is doubtful Trump would garner much support from Jewish Republicans.

“There are the Jewish Republicans who are focused on foreign policy, on economic policy—the sense among that group is that Trump doesn’t speak for them,” Tobin says. “And the question is, if he is the nominee— and right now it looks like it—will they vote for him. And I suspect a lot won’t.”

A Jewish Republican operative who spoke on condition of anonymity says more than one Republican would secretly cast a vote for Clinton should Trump secure the nomination.

“We would prefer we have mainstream candidates who don’t devolve into demagoguery, ethnocentrism and racism,” says the operative, referring to Trump’s recent equivocation over the Duke endorsement.

Trump brusquely disavowed Duke at a news conference. But in an interview Sunday, Feb. 28 on CNN, he professed not to know who the former KKK leader was. Then Trump again disavowed Duke on Twitter after the interview aired, chalking up the discrepancy to a faulty earpiece. The following day, the Anti-Defamation League issued a list of extremists that candidates were advised to steer clear of, with Duke’s name at the top of the list.

Some Republicans have floated the idea that a Trump candidacy could help rally votes for congressional Republicans, the logic being that Trump is so unappealing, he practically guarantees a Clinton presidency—and that in turn strengthens the case for GOP control of the legislative branch as a means to rein her in. Tobin is skeptical.

by Ron Kampeas